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Autopsies describe fatal Pasquotank prison attack

Left to right in top photo: Corrections Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden, Corrections Officer Justin Smith, Corrections Officer Wendy Shannon, and maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe. Bottom row, left to right: Pasquotank Correctional Institution inmates Jonathan Monk, Wisezah Buckman, Seth Frazier and Mikel Brady. (North Carolina Department of Public Safety via AP) (AP photos)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Inmates used hammers to crush skulls and scissors to spear flesh when they killed four employees last fall in the bloodiest prison escape attempt in North Carolina history, medical examiners determined.

Their newly released autopsy and other reports offer details prison officials have been unwilling to share.

Prison officials were unable to say Monday when they will release results of an internal investigation into last October’s failed uprising at Pasquotank Correctional Institution. Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks has said he expects to withhold details about how the attacks unfolded and why.

Four inmates now charged with first-degree murder used weapons including a claw hammer, a ball-peen hammer and half a pair of scissors, medical examiners said. The lone officer guarding the sewing plant near where the violence started was stabbed 67 times.

The prison was so understaffed that one in four positions was vacant, forcing workers to cut corners in ways that created opportunities for mayhem, according to a report by National Institute of Corrections evaluators. That federal report, released in January, said inmates handed out scissors with six-inch blades, hammers and other tools to fellow prisoners working at the plant that made safety vests.

Inmates, who federal evaluators said had been allowed to roam unobserved near the prison-industries sewing plant, also set a fire to create a diversion masking their breakout attempt.

Correctional Officer Justin Smith, 35, was the only guard overseeing 30 prisoners when inmates attacked, according to the institute, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department. His body was found near the sewing plant’s door to a hallway, medical examiners said.

Sewing plant manager Veronica Darden, 50, was killed in a hallway to a freight elevator, medical examiners said.

Correctional Officer Wendy Shannon, 49, was killed in a loading dock by inmates tugging carts of tools for their escape attempt. Another guard with her survived that attack, according to a prison infraction report first acquired by Charlotte TV station WBTV in November. Prison officials have declined to release the report.

Maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe, 31, died three weeks after suffering extensive brain and skull injuries, medical examiners said.

State Bureau of Investigation agents observed all of the autopsies, the reports said.

Prosecutors have announced that they will seek the death penalty against inmates Wisezah Buckman, Mikel Brady, Seth Frazier and Jonathan Monk.

State prison guards continue to face daily violence. In the last week alone, at least seven correctional officers at three prisons were struck by aggressive inmates, officials said. One guard at Alexander Correctional Institution needed medical treatment after being punched.

Two months ago, an officer at Foothills Correctional Institution in Morganton was hospitalized after being stabbed or slashed several times by an inmate armed with a handmade blade.

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